Tag: RVs

Planning Director Seeks Job In Boulder, More Details on Derelict RVs, and Throwing Cold Water on Bike Lane Praise

Image via City of Seattle

As the city council goes on its annual summer recess (and I return from a quick vacation), some notes on what’s been happening in the city over the past couple of weeks:

• Seattle Office of Planning and Development director Sam Assefa is a finalist for a job as head of the planning department in Boulder, CO, where he served as senior urban designer for six years. Assefa, a holdover from the Ed Murray administration whose standing in the Durkan administration has been in question for a while, has presided over the passage and implementation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), which included upzones in neighborhoods across Seattle, as well as the implementation of new rules designed to allow more density in single-family neighborhoods. Durkan has not made land use and zoning a top priority during her first two years in office, and many at the city have expressed surprise that Assefa has managed to stick around so long.

At the same time, the city is hiring a chief of staff for the department. (A similar position was recently created in the Human Services Department’s homelessness division, whose former director, Tiffany Washington, has moved to a position in the Department of Education and Early Learning.) The department is small—about 40 employees—prompting some to wonder whether this position is necessary, and to whom the new chief of staff will be accountable—the director, or the mayor.

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• Council members continued to question Mayor Jenny Durkan’s legislation aimed at curbing abuse by RV “landlords” who buy up “extensively damaged vehicles” and rent them out to people who would otherwise be unsheltered. The legislation would create new penalties, including fines and restitution requirements, for anyone who “allows” another person to live in an RV that meets two or more criteria, including cracked windows, visible trash, and leaks. The restitution—up to $2,000—would be paid directly by the RV owner, not the city. A companion administrative action by the mayor’s office authorizes the city to impound derelict RVs and destroy them along with their contents.

Durkan’s staffers didn’t appear in person at last Wednesday’s finance and neighborhoods committee hearing, but her office did provide a memo answering some of the questions the council posed earlier this month, including how common the problem of predatory RV rental really is.

Continue reading “Planning Director Seeks Job In Boulder, More Details on Derelict RVs, and Throwing Cold Water on Bike Lane Praise”

Council Overrides Mayor’s Soda Tax Veto, More Shakeups at the City, and Reframing the RV Crackdown

1. For those keeping track of the wave of departures from the mayor’s office and city departments, there’s a big one coming: Deputy Mayor David Moseley, who has been with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office since the beginning of her administration (and who is married to Durkan’s longtime associate and frequent city consultant Anne Fennessy) is reportedly leaving at the end of the year. Moseley, the former head of Washington State Ferries, came out of retirement to take the job in 2017, so his departure isn’t a huge surprise, but it could engender a shift of power in the mayor’s office, depending on whether Durkan decides to appoint a new deputy (Moseley is one of three deputy mayors, along with Mike Fong and Shefali Ranganathan) or redistribute his responsibilities. Among other issue areas, Moseley oversees the mayor’s response to homelessness.

Durkan’s policy director, Edie Gilliss, recently left the mayor’s office for a job at the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment; her replacement, Adrienne Thompson, was previously Durkan’s labor policy advisor. Kiersten Grove, who advises the mayor on transportation, will leave Durkan’s office next month to become deputy director of the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services. And Michael Shiosaki—a Seattle Parks division director who’s perhaps better known as former mayor Ed Murray’s husband—reportedly lost his job at Parks last week, and will be transferring to a position at Seattle Public Utilities.

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Meanwhile, the homelessness division of the city’s Human Services Department—whose director, Tiffany Washington, is leaving for a position at the Department of Education and Early Learning next month—just got a new director: Diana Salazar, the former director of Imagine Los Angeles, an organization that helps homeless families in LA with case management and mentorship, started this morning. HSD director Jason Johnson’s announcement to staff on Friday reportedly coincided with the resignation of Ali Peters, the city’s planning and performance director for homelessness, who just came to the office in May. Jackie St. Louis, who headed up the Navigation Team and reportedly applied for the director position after Washington said she was stepping down, left last month.

The churn at the homelessness division comes as the city and county prepare to consolidate countywide homelessness operations into a single regional agency, with many city jobs moving over to that agency. According to city documents, the new regional authority will take over all programs having to do with homelessness prevention, outreach and engagement, diversion, day and hygiene centers, shelters and tiny house villages, rapid rehousing, transitional housing, data collection, and services associated with permanent supportive housing. The city would retain control of a handful of homelessness-related responsibilities, including the Navigation Team and building permanent supportive housing.

 

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

2. After a tense hearing last week over Mayor Durkan’s legislation that would allow the city to confiscate derelict vehicles and fine anyone who “allows” another person to live in one, city council members indicated this morning that the bill is unlikely to pass without significant amendments. Council member Mike O’Brien, who has proposed helping people living in RVs by creating “safe lots” for them to park en masse, said he would propose using surplus budget authority to create a $100,000 fund to assist people displaced from vehicles the city deems uninhabitable whether or not the council ultimately passes the underlying legislation.

“I asked the mayor’s folks last Friday, are there spaces available right now? Could we identify places for people to go that are 24/7 if we were to say you can’t live in this RV? I didn’t get a ‘yes’ answer.”—Council member Sally Bagshaw 

The mayor’s legislation, which would require RV “landlords” to pay restitution directly to their former tenants, does not guarantee payment and includes no funding to increase access to enhanced shelter or “tiny house village” encampments, which allow people to remain with their partners, pets, and possessions and are basically always at full capacity. Instead, the mayor’s staff said that vehicular residents displaced by the program would be shelter and services by the city’s Navigation Team, and acknowledged that just 10 to 15 percent of RV residents “accept” those services. Continue reading “Council Overrides Mayor’s Soda Tax Veto, More Shakeups at the City, and Reframing the RV Crackdown”

Tense Meeting Sets Up Fight Over Durkan’s “RV Ranching” Legislation

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to allow the city to fine and prosecute anyone who “allows” another person to live in an “extensively damaged” vehicle met with a cool reception in city council chambers this morning, particularly after the mayor’s director of Finance and Administrative Services, Calvin Goings, likened homeless people living in RVs to “dogs” living in inhumane conditions. (FAS oversees the city’s towing program).

Goings’ comment came after a testy exchange with council member Teresa Mosqueda, who took issue with Goings’ statement that “the foundational question” for the council was, “does the council agree this is a problem?” Goings said. If they agreed that it was a problem for people to be living in “squalor conditions,” Goings said, they had a “moral obligation” to support some version of the mayor’s legislation.

“If there were animals living like this, then we would seize those animals. Please tell me that Seattle is not a place where we would not allow a dog to live where we would allow human beings to live.”–Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services director Calvin Goings

“It’s very clear to me that the full council shares the concerns,” Mosqueda responded, noting that they have continued to push for more funding for shelter and services and have repeatedly increased the size of the mayor’s Navigation Team. But, she added, “when we’re looking at specific legislation, we have to look at the language here. Words matter. The words in the legislation matter.”

Goings responded: “If there were animals living like this, then we would seize those animals. Please tell me that Seattle is not a place where we would not allow a dog to live where we would allow human beings to live.”

Mosqueda was leaving the meeting during Goings’ comments, but council member Mike O’Brien piled on, noting that the mayor’s legislation neither defines “RV ranchers” (people who buy derelict RVs and lease them out) nor says how common the problem is. Although Goings and other mayoral officials at the table reiterated that the bill was meant to target “the predatory rentals of unsafe vehicles,” the legislation as written would allow the city to go after people who live in RVs with family members as well as people living in cars or RVs that meet just two of a long list of deficiencies that includes things like cracked windshields and leaking fluids.

“Do you know what we do for animals that need a home? We shelter them. We give them food. We give them a bath. This legislation does none of those things for these individuals.”—City Council member Teresa Mosqueda

“Are are we talking five? Are we talking 300?” O’Brien asked. (The city estimates that between two and five individuals are renting out RVs to other people, but has no exact number or estimate of how many RVs those two to five people own).  “I would expect someone to get that information.” O’Brien also noted that some of the photos Goings and staffers from the city’s RV remediation program and the mayor’s office showed in council chambers looked like examples of hoarding, which is also fairly common among people with homes.

Council member Sally Bagshaw asked why the legislation didn’t include any additional funding for enhanced shelter or tiny house villages, which would allow people living in tents or RVs to keep at least some of their possessions and wouldn’t require people to separate from their partners or pets. Tess Colby, the mayor’s homelessness advisor, described the Navigation Team’s outreach on “the day of the clean” (which, as I’ve reported, no longer routinely includes nonprofit outreach workers) and said that only 10 to 15 percent of people living in RVs tend to “accept services” when they’re offered.

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Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly subscriptions allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

The penalty for “RV ranchers” who rent substandard RVs will be up to $2,000—payable directly to their former “tenant” in the form of restitution—plus a $250-a-day fine and potential criminal charges. Bagshaw asked whether it’s realistic to believe people who own derelict RVs have that kind of money. “We believe that they do, and we also think that this is an important message to send to ranchers and  a disincentive to continue to do this,” Colby said.

After the meeting, Mosqueda said she found Goings’ comments comparing people living in RVs to “animals” living in abusive conditions “shocking” and off point. “Do you know what we do for animals that need a home?” Mosqueda said. “We shelter them. We give them food. We give them a bath. This legislation does none of those things for these individuals.”

“We’re actually supportive of is getting people into safe living situations, and nothing in that legislation was actually targeted toward helping individuals.”

The city council’s central staff wrote a memo outlining what the legislation would do, along with a number of questions for the council to consider, that is very much worth a read.

Durkan Legislation Would Fine Anyone Who “Allows” Another Person to Live in “Extensively Damaged” Vehicle


Mayor Jenny Durkan just sent legislation down to the city council that would give the city the authority to fine and prosecute anyone who “allow” other people “to occupy any motor vehicle or recreational vehicle… that is extensively damaged.”

Durkan first announced that she would be proposing a crackdown on junk RVs back in June, on the grounds that unethical RV owners are exploiting homeless people by charging them exorbitant rates to live in inoperable and dangerous vehicles. At the time, the mayor’s office also instituted a new policy that makes it easier for the city to confiscate and destroy “derelict” vehicles instead of allowing them to go back on the market. Durkan’s office provided no data suggesting the extent of this practice, known “RV ranching” or “car farming,” and the legislation doesn’t specify how common it actually is, using phrases like “has increased in frequency over time” and words like “many” to suggest that the problem is widespread. (I’ve asked the mayor’s office for any analysis they used in crafting the legislation.)

The bill, which will likely be amended by the council, would impose a fine of $250 a day on anyone who “allows” people to live in a derelict vehicle, a definition that encompasses everything from cracked windows to leaking fluids to inadequate interior waterproofing.

One thing that is certain is that residents and businesses—particularly in the SoDo industrial area, which is one of a limited number of places in Seattle where parking RVs is legal—have complained repeatedly about the proliferation of RVs near their properties.

The bill, which will likely be amended by the council, would impose a fine of $250 a day on anyone who “allows” people to live in a derelict vehicle, a definition that encompasses everything from cracked windows to leaking fluids to inadequate interior waterproofing. That person—presumably, but not explicitly, a “landlord” who actually owns the vehicle—would also be required to pay up to $2,000 in restitution to the person or people living in the vehicle. The second offense would be a misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. Continue reading “Durkan Legislation Would Fine Anyone Who “Allows” Another Person to Live in “Extensively Damaged” Vehicle”

Morning Crank: Bike Plan Scaled Back, Meinert Buys Mecca, and a Few Questions About the Mayor’s Junk RV Crackdown

Healthy skepticism: The gray blobs are “study areas” where bike lanes may one day go, if funding materializes and politics allow.

1. Last week, the Seattle Department of Transportation released an update to the city’s Bicycle Master Plan Implementation Plan that—as I reported on Wednesday—attempts to address complaints from bike advocates by committing to “study” several routes in South Seattle (along Beacon Ave. S., Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., and between downtown Seattle and Georgetown) that were omitted in a draft version of the plan released earlier this year. Those projects, according to the update, may be built at some point in the future, if unspecified “additional funding” becomes available, perhaps in the form of also-unspecified “new grants and partnership opportunities.” (Bike advocates, as you might imagine, aren’t holding their breath.)

In addition to identifying those “study areas,” the updated plan still gets rid of miles of long-planned protected bike lanes, pushes other bike projects back several years or indefinitely, and eliminates about a dozen projects that were in the most recent update, back in 2017. And it replaces an already delayed two-way protected bike lane on the east side of Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle with a one-way northbound lane on the west side of the street—another setback for a project that was supposed to open last year but which was delayed until 2021 on the grounds that a two-way bike lane might slow down transit on Fourth Ave. during the “period of maximum constraint.” (The report now cites “parking impacts” as a reason for the latest change).

Some other changes since the last version of the plan include:

• A 1.27-mile “safe routes to school” neighborhood greenway to the Orca K-8 school in Southeast Seattle that was identified as “low risk” and scheduled for completion in 2021 is now listed as “TBD”;

• The two-mile North Admiral Connection in West Seattle, which had been removed in the earlier version of the plan, is now back and in the “planning phase,” with a “TBD” completion date.

• Two center-city projects—a quarter mile of protected bike lane on 9th Ave. and a quarter-mile “south end connection” to the Center City bike network in Pioneer Square—will be completed this year, a year ahead of the schedule in the earlier plan.

• Two projects on Capitol Hill—a 0.8-mile stretch of neighborhood greenway (plus 0.1 miles of protected bike lane) along Melrose Ave. and a 0.8-mile stretch of protected bike lane along Union —are now scheduled to open in 2021, a year after the draft version of the plan said they would be finished.

• A half-mile “interim” protected bike lane on 8th Ave. downtown, which was scheduled to open this year, is now listed as a “permanent” PBL that will open in 2023.

• A 0.6-mile safe routes to school connection to Stevens Elementary School on Capitol Hill that was scheduled to open in 2020 is now listed as “TBD,” with 10 percent of the design completed.

• The 1.4-mile Missing Link of the  Burke-Gilman Trail, which has been delayed forever by lawsuits from industrial businesses in Ballard, has been divided into three segments, the last of which is now scheduled for completion in 2021, rather than 2020.

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The C Is for Crank Interviews: City Attorney Candidate Scott Lindsay

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Scott Lindsay, the onetime public safety advisor to former mayor Ed Murray who is challenging City Attorney Pete Holmes, was in the news a few weeks ago for leaking draft legislation that would offer limited amnesty from fines and impoundment to people living in cars and RVs and create dozens of small safe lots for people to park their vehicles around the city. Lindsay released an early version of the bill, sponsored by city council member Mike O’Brien, last month, forcing O’Brien to quickly amend and release the proposal and to hold a hasty press conference to walk back some of the more controversial elements of the draft Lindsay leaked. Lindsay’s reputation as the guy who defended Murray’s encampment sweeps, and his efforts to kill legislation reviled by neighborhood activists, like O’Brien’s RV bill, helped earn him the endorsement of the Seattle Times, which effused about his “tougher,” “stronger,” more “aggressive” approach to homelessness and drug addiction. But Lindsay has also won endorsements from onetime Holmes supporters like Harriet Walden and Lisa Daugaard, two members of the Community Police Commission and longtime advocates for police accountability and reform. The CPC soured on Holmes when he proposed delaying police reform legislation earlier this year.

I sat down with Lindsay at Cupcake Royale in Madrona.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: When we set up this interview, you said you could make a strong case that people who lean further left should vote for you. From what I’ve seen so far, most of your support has been coming from the right, from places like the Seattle Times editorial board and neighborhood groups like Safe Seattle. If you’re the candidate for the left, why are those groups so convinced that you’re their guy?

Scott Lindsay [SL]: I have no idea what their impressions are. I’ve clashed in very public ways with them. What makes me different, and maybe what they might find attractive, is, I’m willing to go talk to them, and I’m actively trying to convince them that fighting supervised [drug] consumption [sites] is maybe not the smartest use of their resources. The thing that also may differentiate me is that I do think we have some public safety issues in the city of Seattle, and I’m willing to acknowledge that. I think  we’ve heard a lot of talk about a progressive approach to public safety. We have not seen action and we have definitely not seen results, and I’m a guy who is going to not only say it but do it.

ECB: What are some of the places where we haven’t seen results?

SL: Holmes, and in fact all of the Seattle political establishment, talks as if we have implemented significant criminal justice reforms in Seattle when we’ve not. We’ve not. The [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program has been in existence for five and a half years, and it’s barely grown outside of downtown into Capitol Hill. [Eligibility for LEAD] has not yet expanded out of the narrow classification of [criminal] charges that we started with. That program is touching just some tiny portion of the population that actually needs it. Holmes says that the cosponsored LEAD, but I haven’t seen any evidence of his engagement over the last three years. We’re not delivering on that program. We’re not delivering on  criminal justice reform within the court  system. And so the result is, people are cycling through the system repeatedly, and reoffending to a significant degree.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway.

What I told the Seattle Times is, I laid out a specific plan and I said we need to address the intersection of criminally involved individuals who are suffering from addiction and suffering from homelessness. And I brought to them specific data about how that population makes up the bulk of people currently being prosecuted by the city attorney and how we’re getting very crappy results in terms of trying to change the behavior of that population.

ECB: Do you believe that the population of homeless people with addiction is primarily responsible for crimes like car prowls and break-ins?

SL: Absolutely.

ECB: What makes you so confident?

SL: Because that’s what our data tells us, and that’s what our police tell us, and that’s what our courts tell us. Go to SPD and they will say that virtually 100 percent of the car prowls in the North Precinct are committed by people whose underlying issue is addiction, principally heroin and methamphetamine.

ECB: I find addiction as a contributing factor easy to believe. What I don’t know, and what I’m asking, is how many of the people committing property crimes are homeless. I have heard many people in the neighborhoods express the opinion that by cracking down on homeless people, the city will solve the problem of property times, and I’m wondering if you think that’s true.

SL: I am the first to say that we are not talking about all homeless. The county has done good work on this. What we know is, it’s people with addiction and who are unsheltered who are currently going through  the system. That does not mean that the vast bulk of homeless individuals are criminally involved or that they’re struggling with addiction, but the folks who are in the  criminal justice  system are very substantially homeless and suffering from addiction.

This is our status quo—the streets-to-jail cycle—right now. We’ve got a lot of folks who are coming out of the criminal justice system right back onto the streets, right back into homelessness, right back into drug addiction. So we have to go and do proactive outreach to folks where they are. The Navigation Team is a form of proactive outreach that’s trying to find low-barrier housing and services for folks to get them out of the cycle before they enter into  criminal justice  system.

The second [intervention] is diversion after arrest. That means expanding LEAD citywide and expanding the total number of qualifying crimes for LEAD. If somebody’s committing a car prowl right now, and they are arrested right here, and their underlying issue is addiction and homelessness, that would be a perfect client for LEAD. And yet because we’re outside of the geographic boundary [of LEAD] and car prowl is not a qualifying crime, they are not eligible to be diverted. Then, if we arrest somebody whose underlying issue is addiction and homelessness [and the case goes to court], we should tie that judge into the Navigation Team, into LEAD, and have, in effect, a street court that is oriented around a harm reduction approach.

And then, in jail, we have to have treatment options. The second somebody on a Seattle Municipal Court charge is booked into a jail and if they [have heroin] addiction,  we need to be offering them counseling and, if not methadone treatment, which can be more involved, then at the very least suboxone.

And finally, we need to have a serious warm handoff. Instead of pushing folks [leaving jail] out onto the street who we know came in homeless, came in with addiction, let’s crate warm handoffs, all tied into the Navigation Center and the Navigation Team.

ECB: So is idea they would exit jail and go straight into the Navigation Center?

SL: I think so, yes—or in a setting similar to the Navigation Center facility.

ECB: It seems like that would require a scaling up of our shelter facilities that isn’t anticipated in the Pathways Home plan (which proposes a shift from shelter to permanent housing) or in the city budget.

SL: This is a four-year plan, but absolutely, if we’re going to be serious about these things, we need to have a vision, have an architecture, and then fund these things appropriately.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway. And so the question is, can we do something to reduce the impact of that? We already have a lot of transitional and halfway housing around Seattle. We’ve been able to manage this in the past. The Navigation Center is a temporary way station on the way toward, hopefully, more permanent options.

ECB: Would you have released the draft [of Mike O’Brien’s RV legislation] if you were city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city.

ECB: Why did you leak O’Brien’s RV legislation—or do you dispute the term ‘leak’?

SL: I dispute the term ‘leak.’

ECB: Okay, how come?

SL: So O’Brien had created his [vehicular living task force]. They’d made their recommendations in April. He then worked up the legislation and his office spread it to a lot of stakeholders. They briefed it to some other council members. They briefed it to city departments. And it spread to series of stakeholders. His office then put out an email out 15 to 20 stakeholders that they were introducing that version of the legislation imminently and it was in the law department for a final review—with minor revisions, but they made clear that it was final. That version of the legislation was in the hands of 50 to 100 people. It was not closely held. In that email, they said, we are introducing it imminently and we’re going to have two hearings on it his month and vote it out of committee right after Labor Day. It was a very truncated legislative process right in the middle of August, when a lot of people aren’t paying attention. That had me very concerned, because I thought the legislation was deeply flawed in a legal sense and a policy sense, and that O’Brien was going to try to shove it through at the wrong time. I wasn’t going to do anything with it until his office said they were introducing it imminently. Once they said they were doing that and on such a truncated timeline, I made it public.

ECB: Would you have released the draft if you were city attorney, rather than a candidate for city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city. I have very specific experience with this. I was the guy who created the RV safe lots [a safe RV parking program that the city abandoned after deciding it cost too much.] I tried to make those work. I saw what the challenges were. So I have experience. I’ve also seen how Mike O’Brien’s program, Road to Housing, which we spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars on, was a serious flop. [Road to Housing was a program that encouraged churches to allow people living in vehicles to park in their lots. Ultimately, it only created a dozen safe parking spots]. So I’m not coming at this as, ‘Oh, I got a special document and I’m just going to throw it out there.’

“They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.'”

ECB: Why did you think O’Brien’s plan wouldn’t work? What was the issue?

SL: I think the blanket amnesty [from fines and towing] is just a very legally problematic policy. The thought that we could create 50-some safe lots is unfortunate—it’s counterproductive because we already have experience with this. At the end of the day, what we found was that trying to serve people in their vehicles and to help them stay in their vehicles is the most expensive way to try to service this population.

ECB: So what is a more effective and affordable solution?

SL: I think we need to vastly ramp up the outreach, and outreach to somewhere. Just going and sending an outreach worker alone and cold to a situating and saying, ‘Hey, would you like services?’—the answer is almost always ‘No, thank you.’ Having a police officer try to resolve the legal issues and the social and health issues at the same time is a more effective model.

ECB: You said that ‘blanket amnesty’ isn’t workable from a legal perspective. It seems to me that from a ‘managing homelessness’ perspective, towing people’s vehicles away isn’t working either, since they go from being homeless people in cars to being homeless people in tents and doorways.

SL: There’s a way to do this with appropriate controls and forgiveness, where we say, if your vehicle’s broken down and you received tickets and all you need is $250 for a new starter, we’re going to forgive the tickets and we’ll help you with the starter, but you have to get your vehicles back into basic legal compliance. We absolutely should not be towing somebody’s vehicle away if it’s just a matter of some basic economics. At the same time, to say that there’s blanket amnesty if you’re living in a vehicle creates a whole host of significant issues.

Go under Spokane Street. We had massive fire hazards. We had major public health problems. We had widespread exploitation of women. We had serious drug dealing and other issues. And we had a homicide just three weeks ago. How is the city going to manage the impacts of significant accumulations of vehicles in one location if there’s a blanket amnesty?

ECB: Let’s shift gears and talk about domestic violence. You accuse Pete of declining to file more DV cases than any city attorney in recent history. His counter is that he’s been boosting more DV cases to felony status, which goes through the county court system, and that the number of DV cases that come before the city attorney are cyclical. How do you respond?

SL: The decline rate, at which they refuse to file cases up front, is 65 percent. That is the highest that it’s been in Seattle’s history. In 2009, it was under 50 percent. So, per the city attorney’s own stats, they are declining to file more cases than they ever have in the history of Seattle. [Ed: The city attorney can decline to file a domestic case for prosecution for many reasons, including a victim who is unwilling to testify, incomplete or unclear paperwork, or an accuser who decides it’s safer not to press charges; charges that are boosted to felonies also show up as declines].

One of the major problems is that Pete Holmes has been shuffling and reshuffling the criminal division and moving people around. They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.’ It used to be the case that when there was some missing information, the investigators would complete that—no problem, it’s a little Google search, boom, complete. Now the city attorney’s office says, ‘Okay, SPD, this case isn’t ready to file,’ and they send it back to the officer who’s out on the street. And that officer may be on vacation, or maybe he has a really full workload. Maybe it gets pushed to the back of pile, and they maybe complete it a week, two weeks later. The case gets more and more stale.

Domestic violence cases are hard, but they haven’t fundamentally changed in the last 30 years, and Holmes has a burden to explain why, if you are an abuse survivor in the city of Seattle, the prospect of you making it through  this process and holding your abuser accountable is slim to none. He says it’s a priority. Those numbers don’t show that. Those numbers show that, in fact, we are badly failing survivors.

Read my pre-primary interview with Lindsay, where we discussed even more issues, including the role of the Community Police Commission in police reform, here; and check out both my recent conversations with City Attorney Pete Holmes here.

Morning Crank: Maybe He Meant Because No One Can Afford To Live There

1. I’ve known Mike Fong, Mayor Ed Murray’s chief of staff, since he worked as an aide to city council member Heidi Wills. In fact, he started at the city right around the same time I started covering city hall, in the late spring of 2001.

Back then, he looked like this:

After 16 years working for the city—as a council staffer and, for the past two years, the mayor’s chief of staff—Fong is leaving city hall behind. (Other mayoral staffers surely won’t be far behind him, as the seventh floor of City Hall empties out in anticipation of current Mayor Ed Murray’s departure in December). He isn’t going far, though—just across the street to the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine, where he’ll be chief operating officer, overseeing Constantine’s cabinet.

Fong has been at city hall (and not just THIS city hall—the old one, too) through some of the biggest stories (and transformations) in the city’s history—from Strippergate to the ouster of former City Light director Gary Zarker to the council’s review of then-mayor Greg Nickels’ response to the 2009 snow storm, which ultimately contributed to Nickels’ loss (to Mike McGinn) that year. During that time, the old City Hall itself was razed, Seattle’spopulation grew from around half a million people to more than 700,000, and Amazon’s value rose from $3.6 billion to more than $500 billion. But as far as I can tell, Mike hasn’t changed all that much. He’s the kind of easygoing, no-bullshit staffer journalists love—he doesn’t spin or offer bland talking points, and his grasp on policy is peerless—and the kind of guy I’d want on my side if I was an elected official with aspirations for higher office. I know I don’t speak just for myself when I say he’ll be missed at city hall.

2. Constantine’s office has seen quite a few shakeups recently, including the departure of his longtime chief of staff (and onetime aide to former mayor Greg Nickels) Sung Yang last month. Yang, who also moved to Constantine’s office after a long  career at the city, left to join Pacific Public Affairs, the consulting firm owned by Constantine’s former deputy chief of staff, Joe Woods. Rachel Smith, the county’s government relations director (and another former Nickels staffer), is Constantine’s new chief of staff. Constantine’s campaign manager, Mina Hashemi Mercer, is also reportedly leaving to become the next Director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, where she previously worked for two and a half years.

Constantine is eternally rumored to be considering a run for governor.

3. The city council’s housing and human services committee discussed legislation that would protect some people living in their vehicles from ticketing or towing for certain parking violations and provide them with access to services; in exchange, vehicle residents would register with the city and agree to abide by certain rules. The recommendations are designed to get people into permanent housing faster while recognizing the reality that homeless people don’t have the money to pay fines or get their vehicle out of impoundment. Another reality: Homeless people who lose their vehicles don’t just disappear; usually, they become homeless people living on the street, destabilized and in even more desperate straits.

North end neighborhood activists, including members of the so-called Neighborhood Safety Alliance, made familiar arguments yesterday against people living in RVs, claiming that they were responsible for an E. coli spike in Thornton Creek, accusing them of leaving literal “tons of garbage and human waste” all over neighborhoods, and suggesting that they, the north Seattle homeowners, might just decide to buy an RV and live in it so they, too, could enjoy the good life, exempt from rules and “homeowner taxes.”

One speaker, Phil Cochran, used his public comment time to demand that Mike O’Brien answer a “simple question.” Actually, he had two: “Do you believe that this ordinance will result in more RVs and more homeless junkies in the city of Seattle, yes or no?” and “What happens when some of these rolling meth labs—which we know they are—catch fire? Who should we sue?” Because public comment is not Adults Play High-School Debate time, O’Brien did not respond, except to say that he’d be happy to discuss the issue at literally any other time. And a member of the Interbay Neighborhood Association said the area around W Thorndyke Drive—at the base of Magnolia, near Dravus—was so totally taken over by RVs that that part of Magnolia is now “unlivable.”

Huh.

Maybe he meant “because no one who isn’t wealthy can afford to live there.”

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On NextDoor, SPD Chief talks Property Crime, RVs, and 911 Response

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On Wednesday, with little notice and in the middle of the day, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole took questions for what she called “the first ever NextDoor town hall.”  Notice of the town hall went up on Twitter and NextDoor around 10:30 in the morning and the comments thread on O’Toole’s NextDoor post was closed at 3.

Not surprisingly for a private social network that tends to be dominated by north end homeowners, most of the questions and comments O’Toole got in response to her late-morning announcement came from the north end, especially Ballard and Wallingford. (Twenty-nine questions came in from all of Southeast Seattle and the Central District combined, compared to more than 125 from north of the Ship Canal.)

Ballard’s NextDoor page has been populated lately by complaints about homeless encampments and illegally parked RVs in the neighborhood, and the problems with drug dealing and theft many residents feel are associated with the homeless; north end residents in general frequently raise concerns on NextDoor about car prowls, mail theft, and burglaries they feel SPD doesn’t take seriously enough. are also high on the list.

In keeping with those patterns, the questions for O’Toole Wednesday centered on property crime, parking, density (to which north end NextDoor commenters seem generally opposed), the perceived need for armed private security,  and nuisance crimes associated with homelessness (like public urination and loitering).

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One commenter, from East Wallingford, said she could “no longer even drive on the freeway without seeing trash, feces, tents, rats, and beer cans” as well as “a man urinating” at illegal encampments. “I don’t even want my kids to play at the local parks anymore. Maybe it’s time to move.”  Another, from Green Lake, wondered “what is being done to get rid of the homeless” and “why do they seem to have more rights than taxpayers do?”

In general, most north end commenters seemed to want to know how O’Toole would crack down on the homeless, including those living in RVs; whether SPD would increase its emphasis on property crimes; what was being done to hire more officers; and why the city would allow more density when the crime problem is already out of hand. Only in the south end did residents express concerns about gang violence, aggressive policing and racial profiling, and violent crime in general.

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O’Toole’s response to the barrage of questions (more than 300 by the time SPD shut it down at 3:00) was  brief, dividing NextDoor members’ concerns into three categories: Property crime, 911 response times and the need for more officers; and homeless encampments and RVs. O’Toole said the city will launch a new Property Crimes Task Force to “focus exclusively” on car prowls, mail thefts, and other property crimes; at an unrelated meeting in Ballard Wednesday night, she said that task force (formed by repurposing existing officers) would focus almost exclusively on the north end of the city.  She also noted that the city plans to hire 200 more officers over attrition by 2019, “modernize” the 911 system, and hold homeless people who commit crimes accountable.

Later Wednesday evening, O’Toole expanded on those answers at a meeting of the Central Ballard Residents Association, at Swedish Hospital in Ballard.

In response to questions about long response times for lower-priority 911 calls, O’Toole acknowledged that “we’re having real struggles getting to Priority 2 and 3 calls quickly, and I know that’s been frustrating for many of you.” However, she noted that in the last five years, 911 calls from the North Precinct, which includes Ballard, have gone up 60 percent; meanwhile, the low-density nature of the mostly single-family district means it takes longer to respond to calls in person.

“The mayor says he really wants us to focus on property crime,” O’Toole said, adding that the new property crimes task force is “going to be working almost exclusively in the North Precinct until we get a handle on some of they property crime that we have here.”

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As for homeless encampments and people living in RVs, O’Toole said, “homelessness in and of itself is certainly not a crime; it’s a tragedy. … Substance abuse is a tragedy, and we want to give people help who have issues. We want to give them services, but we need to hold people accountable for criminal activity. … If people are committing crimes, they should be arrested. We’re not asking officers to turn the other way.”

Finally, O’Toole said that simply forcing people to leave encampments wasn’t a solution to homeowners’ problems with the homeless, which ranged from the belief that they are responsible for property crimes to the possibility that they will spread “resistant strains of bacteria” and “tough biological compounds” through the general population. “As a police department, we don’t want to just keep pushing people around. We have to solve some of the problems” associated with homelessness, O’Toole said.

As in her NextDoor response, O’Toole did not address the issue of violent crime at all; on Wednesday, the issues of gangs and gun violence were only raised by people who live in Southeast Seattle.